Monday, February 22, 2010

Are iPhones rude?

I was at a teachers' convention recently and I sat in on a session about how technology will affect the teaching profession in the coming years. We talked about web 2.0 and even a little about web 3.0. We discussed Facebook, Twitter, wikis and blogs.

During the session, the presenter asked how many of us were on Twitter right now. About 6 or 7 hands went up in a crowd of say 50. Including mine.

At the end of the session, questions were asked - and one of the questions went like this:

Isn't it rude and offensive for those people to be on their phones while you are trying to present?

The presenter immediately responded that he was not offended because he had an idea what those people were actually doing.

I happened to be one of those people on Twitter while the presenter delivered his presentation. I was actually engaged in a Twitter conversation with one of the teachers in the room. We were talking back and forth about the same topic the presenter had brought up. I had also been using my phone to take notes during the presentation.

The teacher who implied that we iPhone users were being rude is making a gross misassumption born entirely out of ignorance. That teacher doesn't have a iPhone nor do they Twitter. All that teacher saw was me bent over my phone and typing with my thumbs.

Had I had a pencil and scribbler, would I have been any more or less rude?

Learning is a highly social, emotional, cultural and deeply intrapersonal activity. And so there must be opportunities for learners to socialize. The problem is - traditional classroom teachers provide little to no time for students to interact. Especially if the rule of the day is to sit in your desk, in your row, face forward and listen.

What's rude is the number of people who believe that learning is a passive activity where students need to just be receptacles for their teachers' knowledge - and that students need only reproduce that knowledge in order to show their learning. That's rude.


  1. Seriously, what is web 3.0?

    Also, I'm really glad your answer to your title's question is "no." I was getting nervous. :)


  2. Having recently attended TCEA, where a very high portion of the audience at any give session was hunched over one device or another, I'm glad to see your post.

    Oh, and you might pull that pesky apostrophe from your title. Of course it was just your little finger conspiring against you. ;-)

  3. Damn pinky finger! Make a fool of me will you! lol

  4. Joe,

    First off, I have to echo Russ' question: what is Web 3.0? Is that the new interface Facebook launched or just another term that people are throwing around so that another book can be written? ;) lol

    Second, iPhones are not rude nor is any other medium that people use to actively engage in discussion about a topic that they are specifically attending to learn about. The "Backchannel" does the same thing for presentations as cooperative learning does for students. It allows for the audience to be actively enagaged in the discussion. I would rather people be tweeting and commenting online during a presentation than engaging in side discussion.

    What we really need to start asking is: "how can we remodel our presentations to accomadate isses and concerns that might be raised in the backchannel?" This is more work for the presenter, but the response to the audience would be greatly valued.

  5. Interesting post. First, a phone can't be rude, but the user can.

    Isn't IMing back and forth kind of like passing notes in class? That could be considered rude, no?

    I think a pad and pencil are less rude, though I understand folks wanting to get their notes into digital format immediately. Instant gratification and all that, I suppose.

    I'm going to go with slightly rude.

  6. @Aaron: I totally agree with your comment on 'back channel' stuff. Eluminate is a great example of how 'passing notes' while the presenter talks can be such a great way to make a presentation even better. Someone who labels back channeling rude simply hasn't participated in one to see how productive they are.

    @TFT: I agree that users are rude not the phone itself, but I'm not sure how you could ever say paper and pencil are some how inherently less rude than an iPhone.

    I think its rude for a presenter to not give his audience a chance to actively engage in 'passing notes' or 'back channelling'. If people want to legitametly engage in a presenter's message, why would we ever discourage that?

  7. The only reason we might not want to encourage passing notes and backchannelling is the fact that it can be distracting.

    Now, if you want to begin to change what distracts us by allowing for what has traditionally been distracting (distracted participants, fiddlers, snorers, gigglers, etc) by making it common/normal (conditioning?) and therefore not distracting, well good luck with that.

    I think not giving your attention to a speaker is a potential risk of handheld media--it requires discipline. Not giving attention is rude.

    One's desire to use certain tools does not necessarily outweigh the decorum of public places, IMHO.

    I disagree with you that it is rude for a presenter not to give his audience a chance to pass notes. After the presentation you can communicate all you want. Maybe the presenter needs his/her presentation to go a certain way, making it rude for you to expect something not offered.

    Taking notes is a good thing, and I don't really care what media one chooses for that task. The iPhone allows for distraction, real or perceived, making it a worse option than paper and pencil, IMHO.

    Legitimacy is in the eye of the beholder; sometimes.

  8. IMHO passive learning is not the best and leaves many tuning out. So is tuning out rude? Backchanneling, taking notes, maybe eve doodling if it helps me focus on the speaker and the content, I'm all for it. So I have to be
    all for it for my students/audience as well. Isn't that better than having your audience fall asleep? How do you keep an audience focused when you talk?

  9. TFT...(Now, if you want to begin to change what distracts us by allowing for what has traditionally been distracting (distracted participants, fiddlers, snorers, gigglers, etc) by making it common/normal (conditioning?) and therefore not distracting, well good luck with that.)

    Distraction is in the eye of the beholder...

    I do a fair amount of "presenting" on a wide varity of topics, and to be honest, I'm alarmed when I don't see some of the things you mentioned. Who am I to say whether an audience member is paying attention or not? When I'm introduced as a speaker, I laugh to myself when the introducer requests (every time)that participants turn off their cell phone... again, who am I to judge whether the purpose for it being on is useful or distracting? (...and I'm not going to ask)The first thing I do is ask them to turn them back on.

    My favorite presentation format is fully connected and wide-open. I've learned a great deal in real-time as a presenter from participants who are digitally dialed-in.

    At the end of the day, I'm speaking to and appreciate those who are engaged, in whatever form, and not those who are truly tuned out... they won't hear my message anyway.

  10. I appreciate your position Joe. I recall when I was in my junior year of high school. I had a teacher who pulled my parents aside during a school function and told them that I was going to fail her class because instead of listening to her during class (meaning facing forward, eyes on her) I was always doodling.

    A couple of months later, the same teacher pulled my parents aside at another school function and proceeded to apologize and tell my parents that I was actually getting the best grade in the class. She said she had realized that my actions were the way in which I learned and she had to be open to that reality (amazing as this was back in 1979).

    Fast forward to 2001 and my MA work in Pepperdine's Ed Tech program (OMAET). Our classes were held in TappedIn and four of my fellow cadremates and I began to open an AIM chat beside it and carry on a conversation focused around the finer points of the class discussion. We felt it enhanced our learning tremendously. During a mid-program F2F session we let it slip to one prof, he was intrigued and after some discussion dragged us to another group, including the program's original designer. We were shocked the prof who had developed the program was offended that we would do such a thing. After a length discussion however, it was obvious that she was reluctantly willing to consider that our work was in keeping with the spirit of the program.

    Learning is social and that is expressed differently for different students. Technology also changes the landscape and the way we traverse the landscape. The idea that one (even a teacher in a PD session) should some how minimize their interaction with fellow learners is to deny the power of taking the risk to think "outloud." It is only in the exchange of ideas through conversation (however that happens) that we construct meaning. Educators must plan for, and encourage, the conversation and do as little as possible to control it.

  11. I honestly agree that using an IPhone during a presentation can be seen as either rude of totally exceptable, but it all depends on the presenter. Some people I have met have been totally fine with it and could care less if you are on your phone or not. There are also people like myself who would find this extremely disrespectful and rude. It compeletly depends on the presenters previous experiences and views on the topic to get some answers. My experiece with presentations has shown me that most of the people who participate in doing this are actually not paying any attention what so ever, and are just trying to find another way to pass the time.

    How ever you put it, it all depends on the presenter and the way they view the topic.

  12. I had a very similar experience recently at the National Association of Independent Schools conference in San Francisco. I was attending Rob Evan's session and taking detailed notes on my laptop to share with colleagues attending other sessions. At the end of Rob’s talk a red-faced and obviously frustrated woman approached me and condemned my typing during the presentation. I apologized to the woman and her feedback prompted me to handwrite notes for the remainder of the conference.
    I have continually reflected on this event since the conference. It is ironic that a conference focused on 21st-century skills and transforming education was attended by almost no bloggers. The general sentiment was that using a computer in the sessions was taboo. Heck, you could not even connect to wireless in the presentation rooms and power outlets were impossible to find.
    I feel badly for the woman who preferred to spend the session focused on my actions rather than hearing Rob’s message.

  13. I think things have been pretty well covered here. My only contribution might be to point out we "audit" most lectures and the illustrations offered tend to be relatively simple. Eye contact might be polite (in western culture anyway), but we have centuries of tradition where students scribble notes and diagrams frantically while a speaker drones on. Not taking notes might be the more rude response.

    I have always doodled or taken notes. Now I use my phone to note take and back channel.It is not so very different.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Hi Joe,

    Wouldn't it be great if the presenter got up there and said, "I encourage the use of hand held devices to stimulate conversation." That would make it a lot clearer.

    The next time someone gives a presentation she/he should let the audience know her/his feelings towards hand held devices.Presenters should not assume all share the same conference etiquette. Letting the audience know how she/he feels could clear up a lot of misconceptions.

    Great post.


Follow by Email